If you’ve known me for any length of time, there’s a high likelihood you’ve heard me reference Jen Hatmaker. I’m… not even sorry about that. Her writing has inspired some of my deepest soul work, and her bravery to critically examine her faith has encouraged me to do the same. If you don’t know her, get your hands on Of Mess and Moxie or just poke around her website—you won’t be sorry.
So, when Jen Hatmaker and Nichole Nordeman’s Moxie Matters Tour came within a few hours of my hometown, I couldn’t miss it. My dear friend Kelly and I drove up to Woodbridge, Virginia, to attend, and I really cannot say enough wonderful things about it. We laughed, cried, prayed, sang, and the Spirit was undoubtedly there in the midst. Jen and Nichole shared so many lovely nuggets of truth, love and encouragement, I couldn’t possibly regurgitate them all in a post. But I thought I’d just share the one part of the evening that was the most impactful to me—and when I say that I mean that it kind of lovingly slapped me in the face, as many of Jen’s teachings tend to do.
Should I Pack Up and Move to Africa?
Jen talked about a point in her life where she felt extremely convicted of her American Dream-like life and the materialism that had seemed to seep into her home. She realized that Jesus actually really meant it when he asked he followers to feed his sheep—the poor, the widowed, the oppressed, the orphan. That conviction was immediately channeled into the thought that the only answer to their dilemma was to pack up the family and go become missionaries in Africa. Obviously—what else is a serious Christian to do?
I have to admit, this resonated with me a little too personally. I pretty regularly get nauseated at the thought of our easy, American Christian life, and daydream about getting rid of all our stuff and doing something similar. Wouldn’t our lives be better lived out in some developing country where we can meet like… real needs? If we want to make a real difference, that’s what we’ve got to do. Let’s just sell all the stuff and go!
The Widow Next Door
There are people who are called to that sort of life, and I’d like to think I wouldn’t hesitate to hop on that train if God decided to send it my way. But the next part of Jen’s story might help keep my feet planted here for a while. At the time of this story, her family was living in a nice suburban neighborhood. However, the house right next door to them was an unkempt disaster. The lawn was never mowed, and the place seemed to be deteriorating a little more each day. They’d complained about this neighbor to each other and to their friends on their street. It was like whoever lived there didn’t care at all about maintaining their home or have any regard for how their mess disrupted the neighborhood’s aesthetic.
And it was during Jen’s frenzied moment of realizing she needed to do more to actually love those in need that God brought it to attention that she had a widow living right next door. A widow whose family was not caring for her, whose loved ones had died or otherwise deserted her. Her house was in disrepair because she was alone.
Of course, that’s when everything changed. Jen and her family stopped complaining about the state of the house next door and began serving their widowed neighbor. Their lives have been defined by service to the least of these ever since.
I was so struck by the image painted by her words. The house next door. Next. Door. In disrepair. Falling down around her, neglected and disheveled. That widow had a pastor’s family living next to her, and instead of seeing her need they saw her mess (I am sooo not throwing stones at Jen and her family here, by the way. She openly talks about this tragic oversight, and I know she sees the importance of sharing this story to teach us). They were blind to her need until they allowed Jesus to swoop into their cautious, safe lives and show them they needed to love their neighbor—their literal neighbor, in this case.
How often, I wonder, are we blind to people’s needs because all we can see is their mess? How often do we overlook our neighbors—and then wonder why we feel so dry in our faith, and why God hasn’t sent us any opportunities to serve the needy?
There is certainly a great deal of need around the world. And we absolutely should care about the plight of the poor and oppressed in other countries. But we also have people in our lives—in our very neighborhoods, or at the grocery store, or holding a cardboard sign on the street corner we pass everyday, or yes, even in our churches—who are lonely, broken-hearted, widowed, abandoned. You don’t have to drive far to find people who are impoverished, hungry, abused or neglected. You don’t even have to go to the “bad” part of town. Our neighbors are everywhere, and they’re in need. The only question is whether or not we can look past their mess to see it, and then respond like Jesus would.
Easier said than done? Yes. Denying ourselves and living out love usually is. Bob Goff tweeted a few months ago: “The way we treat the people around us is the way we’re treating Jesus.” (Bob, you’re killing us. Between your books and Twitter, we cannot even take it.) Maybe if we recited that mantra each time we encountered a neighbor who might be in need, we’d really be living the way Jesus wants us to.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” Matthew 25:31-40